Family, friends and teammates of 16-year-old Frank Gallegos of Jarales are mourning his death this week after he was killed in a single-vehicle accident this weekend.
Gallegos, who was a sophomore at Belen High School, died Saturday afternoon when the truck he was driving hit a fence on NM 304. State Police Lt. Robert Shilling said Gallegos was traveling north when the accident occurred.
“The vehicle approached a curve in the roadway, and he apparently failed to negotiate the curve,” Shilling said. “He drove off the east side of the roadway, and he overcorrected. He re-entered the northbound lane and overcorrected again.”
Shilling said Gallegos skidded again to the east side of the road where he hit the dirt shoulder and struck a barbed-wire-and-chain-link fence.
“The vehicle continued to straddle the fence line until he hit a gate,” Shilling said. “The top rail of the gate went through the windshield and struck the driver in the head. He died instantly.”
The news of Gallegos’ death has been overshadowed this week by the memories of his life. Gallegos, who was born on Jan. 1, 1986, is being remembered as a dedicated athlete, a loyal friend, a caring son and a helpful neighbor.
“He was always there to help everybody,” said Gallegos’ mother, Alice. “Everybody tells me what a good son I had. He’s always been a good kid and always had a smile on his face.”
Alice described her son as always keeping himself busy and always looking for something to do. Gallegos was a member of the Belen High School varsity football and wrestling teams and was passionate about auto mechanics.
“I finally had to get him a cell phone so I could keep track of him,” Alice said. “He was always on the go, helping here and there, and trying to earn money. Anyone in this neighborhood could say that Frank had worked for them.”
Gallegos’ father, Orlando, said his son was very hard-working and had a lot of plans. The high school sophomore had planned to join the Air Force and pursue a career in mechanics.
“He had a future, and he didn’t deserve this,” his father said. “You couldn’t find a better son. There was no one like him.”
Frank’s 19-year-old brother, Nick, said his brother’s ambition to achieve his goals was unique.
“Everything he wanted to do, he would finish,” said Nick. “I’m sure everything that he planned on, he would have gotten. I’m going to miss him a lot.”
As the Gallegos family grieves for their son and brother, the community has also come together to show them how much he meant to them.
Terese Armijo was one of Gallegos’ best friends. When she heard of his death, she said, she was devastated.
“He was the greatest person that I’ve ever met,” she said. “He was always willing to help someone and was always happy. He was just a really great person, and I’ll miss him very much.”
Jerry Moya, the Belen High School wrestling coach, said Gallegos was a shy and quiet guy, but he had a big heart.
“I had the privilege of working with Frankie for the past three years,” Moya said. “He was a loyal and dedicated kid.”
Gallegos won fifth place in the state wrestling tournament this year, and, Moya said, he was very proud of his accomplishments.
“He was an integral part of the team, and he will be greatly missed in the wrestling program. The whole team is taking it very hard. I told them Frank has to live on in their memories,” Moya said. “I have tremendous admiration for Frank. He never complained, he never quit and he was always willing to help anyone he could.”
Moya said he had a plaque made in honor of Gallegos and what he meant to the team. Ben Harper, Gallegos’ wrestling partner, said there will always be a spot open on the team in remembrance of him.
“He was always there for you, no matter what,” Harper said of Gallegos. “In the wrestling room, he’d always push you. He was a strong guy, and I used to hate to wrestle him, but he made me the wrestler I am today.”
Kevin Benavidez, the Belen High School football coach, said Gallegos always gave it his all on the football field.
“I know I’m going to miss him as well as his teammates (will),” Benavidez said. “He was such a hard worker. It’s almost like losing a brother or a son.”
Benavidez said he is going to frame Gallegos’ jersey, No. 69, and put it in the field house or the gym and give the other one to his mother.
Alice Gallegos said her family has received abundant compassion and support from the community. Not only have Frank’s friends and coaches been there to help, but every one of his teachers, dating back from the first grade, have stopped by to pay their respects.
“We have had an outpouring of community support,” Alice said. “I never realized how many people would get together and show us how much Frank really meant to them. It’s been amazing.”
Clara Garcia is the editor and publisher of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.
She is a native of the city of Belen, beginning her journalism career at the News-Bulletin in 1998 as the crime and courts reporter. During her time at the paper, Clara has won numerous awards for her writing, photography and typography and design both from the National Newspaper Association and the New Mexico Press Association.